“Qin Gang was removed from the post of Foreign Minister. China's top legislature voted to appoint Wang Yi as Foreign Minister," state news agency Xinhua said on Tuesday. No reason was cited. But it is widely believed that Qin (57) was axed for allegedly having an affair with a prominent TV host, 40 year old Fu Xiaotian, and fathering a child out of wedlock. Qin Gang has not been seen in public since June 25.

Having an extra-marital affair is not a “crime” in China as infidelity is covered by civil law, but infidelity is frowned upon by Chinese society, more particularly by the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China (CPC).

In 2015 China’s supreme governing authority led by President Xi Jinping formulated an updated set of rules to ensure “clean governance”. This was a yardstick to decide whether a government official should be retained or sacked on moral grounds. According to Xinhua, “having improper sexual relationships with others,” was one of the don’ts listed.

The CPC trumpets the sexual trespasses of top officials who fall from grace, describing in some detail their adultery and mistresses.

The list of disgraced includes Zhou Yongkang, who for 10 years ran China’s court and law enforcement systems and Ling Jihua, chief of staff for a former Chinese President; and many minister-level officials and heads of big state-owned enterprises.

In 2021, ‘New York Times’ quoted the Legal Daily, an official newspaper, to say that 63 senior officials were accused of having “inappropriate sexual relationships” during a 16-month period starting in October 2017.

The year before, China’s top prosecution agency listed the six main traits of senior officials prosecuted for corruption. No: 3 in the list was: “exchanged power for sex recklessly.” One top provincial official had a reputation for “working for his mistresses” — needing all the money he could get to maintain them.

Prosecutors who investigated Lai Xiaomin, the former chief of a state financial firm, accused him of keeping three tons of cash in his home — and of having more than one wife. State media said he kept more than 100 mistresses.

In a high profile case in November 2021, Chinese woman tennis star and Wimbledon doubles winner, Peng Shuai, accused, through the social media, that former Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli of "forcing “ her to have sexual relations with him.

It was the first time such an allegation was made against one of China's senior political leaders. Zhang Gaoli, 75 at that time, had served as China's Vice Premier between 2013 and 2018 and was a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

After the accusation, both Shuai and Gaoli disappeared. But both reappeared after sometime, with Shuai withdrawing her allegation and Gaoli making an appearance as a part of the top Chinese leadership.

However, despite all the naming and shaming, infidelity has been going up in China, with changing economic and social conditions. In a survey in the 2000s, 60% said they had an affair at some point during their marriage, compared to 15% in the 1980s.

Rising divorce rates in China are an indication of an increase in infidelity. About a third of the divorces in Beijing from 1984 to 1985 were caused by extramarital affairs. In 1991, it had increased to 40%.

Labrecque and Whisman said in their paper in the ‘Journal of Family Psychology’ in 2017, that the infidelity rate in China was higher than in the US. In 2016, only 16.3% of married Americans admitted that they had ever had sex outside marriage.

As China became more integrated with the world after the economic reforms of the 1990s, individualism grew. In an individualistic society, people value pleasure, freedom, and autonomy.

And under the changed social order, marriage is expected to fulfil these individualistic aspirations. If it does not, the male, and increasingly the female too, look for sexual gratification outside marriage.

In the traditional Chinese society, sexual relations in marriage are essentially for procreation and the extension of the lineage and not for recreation or pleasure. In modern society, with the economic necessity to pursue a career and to increase one’s earnings, interest in raising a family and having sex for procreation recedes.

Therefore, the family, as a unit, diminishes in importance. And the need to keep it intact loses its salience. That adversely affects conjugal fidelity.

Studies reveal that marital satisfaction has declined in China. In 2000, 74% reported that they were “very happy” in their marriage, but this came down to 52% in 2015.

Between 1990 and 2020, the per capita disposable income in China increased at the rate of 9.3% per year in urban areas, and 8.61 % per year in rural areas. A higher-income meant that individuals were able to meet attractive people and bear the expenses of an extra-marital relationship.

As compared to the past, Chinese work longer hours and spend more time in the workplace. The average working time per week for urban employees increased from 44.9 hours in 2001 to 47.0 hours in 2020 according to official figures. Thus they have more time now than before to be out of home and make friends and establish contacts.

There is an increase in spatial mobility too, which facilitates infidelity. Couples stay apart to pursue their separate careers. More often, the husband works out of town while the wife stays put in the home town. With the result, family cohesion weakens.

Even temporary migrants acquire a certain amount of freedom to choose lifestyles, including liaisons outside marriage. The anonymity of urban life facilitates philandering. No wonder, the more static rural Chinese households have less extra-marital affairs.

The spread of the internet has been a major factor in the development of a new attitude to sex and fidelity. The number of internet users in China touched 1.03 billion in December 2021, up from 0.62 million in November 1997. This means greater access to pornography, and more avenues for the expression of feelings and contacting extramarital partners.

Studies show that compared to non-netizens, netizens show more sexually permissive attitudes. The Chinese news media have featured the growing phenomenon of young women willing to take rich and married lovers for an apartment or a car. How to deal with corrupt officials who have mistresses is a continuing problem for the government and the CPC.

In 2009, China’s top prosecutorial agency said that 90% of provincial- or ministerial-level officials found guilty of corruption in the earlier seven years, had engaged in extra marital affairs, according to China Daily, a government-run English language newspaper. That year, Meishan, a city in Sichuan Province, decided to issue an edict ordering officials to remain “faithful to their spouses.”